There’s Your Representation! Diversity & Responsibility
Earlier in the week, #JKRowlingisoverparty began trending on Twitter.
It seems that Twitter loves having parties celebrating the ending of a famous person’s relevancy. Which is ironic in itself, considering they’re partying to celebrate said person. But anyway.
Rowling (haha) my eyes and clicking on the hashtag, I wasn’t too sure what the topic was. I found myself liking a few conflicting tweets, and it wasn’t until some time later I realised what the reason for the hashtag actually was.
Sirius Black is not gay.
We’ve all done it; we’ve all had our fill of Harry Potter fanfiction. Whether it’s Dramione, Drarry, or Sirius/Lupin (Sirupin? Lupius?), we’ve all taken from the books we loved and shared our own little head canons together. I’ve always seen fanfiction as a celebration for works, and while many authors do not agree with that, it comes across that J.K. Rowling does agree.
A very common concept within fandoms is changing the sexuality of a character. There are many reasons why this may happen or why readers do this, but one glaringly obvious reason is the lack of LGBT representation within the majority of fiction. While I find YA in particular might be progressing towards a diverse community of characters, Harry Potter is still a hugely popular series with little to no diversity. It is literally a school of straight, white people. It’s not as if every character was described as white, but after almost all (bar 5, one of who was in one scene, and two who were hive mind love interests) characters in the films were cast as white, it hit the nail on the coffin.
Harry Potter is not diverse.
And so, Twitter. J.K. Rowling, in her Twitter bio, wrote an implicit answer to the question everyone was asking; is Sirius Black gay? It seemed the Twittersphere was split between praising an author for doing what she wants with HER characters, and the anger that an author, already with a series with little to no diversity, wants to deny even just a little bit of representation in her own works.
And it’s conflicted me too.
I read the books, watched the films, consumed every medium that had the words ‘Harry Potter’ in them. It wasn’t until I was older that I became disappointed that there were no Hogwarts students like me, or, in fact, like many other people apart from the obvious that dominates books and shows and movies. I still really enjoyed them, and that will not be taken away.
The outing of Dumbledore made it worse, because while people like to pipe on that there IS LGBT representation in HP, it was revealed that Dumbledore was gay after the series was over, in passing, during an interview. I’m sorry, but kids will not read that interview, and there is nothing in the text that says he is, or even hints at it. He obviously wasn’t gay when it was written, but maybe Rowling had been pressured to give representation, and instead of saying she would do better in the future, yelled “Here is your representation!” and gave us useless information that did nothing to contribute to the text.
As a reader, I am disappointed at all the opportunities that J.K. Rowling decided to side step for no reason.
As a writer, however, I pose a different argument.
Here you are, the writer. You are writing a story that is both epic and character driven. These characters are what you like to call ‘my babies’. They’re carefully crafted and you’ve thought of everything. Yes, many things are up to interpretation, such as skin colour maybe, or a character’s accent. You haven’t thought of each characters’ favourite types of cheese, but that’s OK.
You release said story into the world. People love it, and they create art and write stories and build a fandom surrounded by your work. The love is a gargantuan size and your so happy that people have found your work to be the grounding for how they connect and share. Your readers like to interpret the characters how they want; sometimes they make a straight character gay for their fanfiction, or draw a white character black.
But then, someone directly asks you if a certain character is gay. You’ve written the story, and you know they’re not, and that’s what you say; no, they’re not. Your readers get angry at your refusal to acknowledge their headcanons of your straight character. How dare you deny them the right of fair representation? And you’re there, stunned, because it’s not like you’ve refused them anything; they’re your characters as much as theirs…but the text. You’ve written the text, it’s done, that’s how you saw them. You appeal to them; the character is in a heterosexual relationship, maybe they’re bisexual instead? You talk about it, hoping they’ll get off your back for not including LGBT characters in your story.
It’s enough for some, but the rest are still disappointed.
You realise that you have to stick to your guns, because you can’t please everyone. This character is straight, you wrote them straight, and this is Word of God.
As a writer, I find representation is a given. I would not praise a writer for being diverse, but I do find it a bit weird when they’re not. While I wouldn’t do it to just make sure I’m inclusive and just for the sake of it, I would still feel a bit shitty if I made all my characters white and straight (and talk about boring too). But, at the same time, I can’t get too annoyed at a writer who has written a character a certain way. It is their character, and there are many other, more important reasons why you may dislike something in a book.
For example, the queerbaiting of Scorpius and Albus, which I’ll talk about in another post.